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  1. A question regarding the fascinating article compilation “Original Christian Quraan”:

    In the Khuzestan Chronicle dating from the 7th century there is mentioned “Dome of Abraham” in the far off deserts and how Arabs inherited it from their ancestors. Do you think this refers to Maccah in Saudi Arabia or Sinai? If Sinai, why has it not been mentioned by the supposed Nestorian source of the Chronicle which should have been aware of Sinaitic sanctuaries? God bless, Adiel

  2. Thank you my friend for your interesting question. I notice that the Khuzestan Chronicle itself does not claim to know what the Dome of Abraham was, and also says the place was so named after what it once “was” not what it was when the Chronicle was written, and that it was a traditional site. This implies the place was in ruins in the Chronicler’s day, but was remembered amongst the Ishmaelites as a place where a dome built by Abraham once stood. As the same passage locates it clearly in the deserts frequented by Abraham, it must be in the Sinai, Desert of Paran, or thereabouts. It is an interesting fact that Sinai is peppered with dome-like or beehive structures, built without mortar. These are early “tholos” like structures and are most likely the same buildings found later in the Mediterranean and far West (even in the Orkneys!). They are very early and probably represent the tribes who inhabited Paran in Abraham’s day, that is the Anakites, Rephaim etc. It is very possible, though I have not looked into it, that there was a site in or near Wadi Feiran (where such buildings are found), originally a beehive-shaped building, which the Saracens associated with Abraham. And he may well have been actually so associated, if he adopted the practice from his neighbors and allies the Anakites.

  3. Thanks for your response! I googled and found that there indeed were tholos used by hermits at Sinai in the 6th and 7th centuries:
    I wonder what was the Syriac word for “dome” in the Chronicle? If it was same as in Arabic, qubbat, it would perhaps likewise refer to a domed tent, tabernacle or a like. Certainly it is not refering to a cubic structure like that in Maccah.

  4. I haven’t checked the Syriac yet, but give me a bit of time. Another possibility is that the Dome of Abraham in the Chronicle is the Dome built over the Masjid Ibrahim in Hebron by the “Umayyads” which could refer to Othman himself or one of his successors. This is mentioned in Mujir ad-Din: “I was told” says Mujir “that domed chambers over the tombs attributed to al-Khalil {Abraham} and his wife Sarah and Jacob and his wife Leah were built by the Sons of Umayyah.” (Mujir 1283:57-58, 1973, I:61). This is an isolated reference, but Othman certainly would predate the Khuzestan Chronicle. Hebron was Kiryat Arba within Anakite territory, and a known habitation of Abraham.

  5. It is interesting that in the Khuzestan Chronicle the Dome of Abraham and his desert sojourn is mentioned taking place due to his growing wealth and the need to be separated from the Canaanites. The only Biblical passage that comes close to this description is indeed Genesis 13 where Abraham parts ways with Lot and moves his tent to Mamre which is close to Hebron. During the Byzantine times the place was an important marketplace and sacrificial festivities were held annually with Jewish, Christian and Arab pilgrims arriving from afar, the common factor for them being descent from Abraham. This could, in my opinion, be one explanation to the “Dome of Abraham”, especially if Syriac “dome” derives from the root Q-B-H as a reference to a large tent, tabernacle, pavilion or the like (a structure of nomadic people or merchant markets). Mamre, of course, is not wilderness or desert area but perhaps there is some (con)fusion here between the two original Arab ancestral sanctuaries in Sinai and Mamre?

  6. Checked Syriac: the word is qubthah, “arched room” or “pavilion” or similar, like the Arabic qubbat. Difficult to say whether it means a solid structure here, but probably does as a contrast seems to be made with tents. I agree with you on your dating of the episode in Genesis. It does seem to fit the rather loose description in the Khuzestan Chronicle. Also this whole area was the Campus Damascenus in medieval Latin chronicles, roughly the wilderness of Paran, and the land of the Anakites (who fought around Damascus with Abraham — hence the term). It was certainly a midbar in Hebrew, “wilderness” where animals foraged. It was part of the midbar yehudah, wilderness of Judah in later terminology, and Teman/Paran was considered to include the birthplace of Jesus, Beth-lehem, in post-NT prophetic exegesis. This is by far the most probable meaning of the reference in the Khuzestan Chronicle. It implies that Othman himself or his immediate successor started building a dome-like structure over the already-revered site of Abraham’s burial at Kiryat Arba, as referenced in Mujir.

  7. Yes, I think it must be so. The pre-Islamic Arabic veneration of Abraham in Hebron is also a strong indication of northern origin of Islam (consisting of tribes primarily from Negev and Sinai region). There must have been a lot of confusion regarding the ancient geographic names, with names such as Paran, Teman, Midian, Edom and Dedan used on approximately the same region south of Israel extending from Sinai to the eastern side of Jordan.
    But how about Yathrib? The Khuzestan Chronicle makes the connection between the names Midian, Madina and Yathrib. What is the earliest mention of Yathrib and where was it located? I think it was mentioned at least in one pre-islamic Yemenite inscription as the origin of some slaves among with those from Egypt, Dedan and Ghazah. This, in my opinion, would place it on the northern part of Levant. Yathrib is once mentioned in the Quraan but I don’t think it is connected to the name Madina there? The fact that even the traditional Islam admits modern Saudi Madina was “renamed” is indicative of a transition of narrative locations having taken place in the formative years of early Islam.

  8. Nabonidus in Iatribu is the earliest mention of Yathrib, but the identification with Medina is absurd. There is no evidence Nabonidus went so far south. It is much more reasonable to suppose Iatribu is in the vicinity (relatively speaking) of Tema, which was Nabonidus’ base. This suits the area around Ar-Moab. It used to be thought Yathrib was related to the name Jethro. As these ancient names (Edom, Dedan, Tema etc.) are primarily tribal names, that seems a reasonable hypothesis. Then we have an ancient tribal region of the madinat of Jethro, around the “city of Midian” becoming the Medina of later tradition. Jethro’s Midianite homeland is along the eastern edge of the Gulf of Aqaba and somewhat to the north and east also, so it fits exactly.

  9. Thank you, interesting! (Sorry for posting the same text twice, you can remove the second one) It is sad the Saudi government has forbidden all archaeological excavations in Saudi Madina. Are you aware if there is any basis to the claims that the Masjid of the two qiblahs date from Mohamad’s days? Or that Saudi Madina was a Jewish trade settlement as the Sirat claim? On the contrary, Ar-Moab is reported having had a vibrant Jewish community in the Byzantine times so Mohamad’s encounter with the Jews could naturally have occured there.

  10. Whatever the status of Medina at the time of Muhammad, and as you say it’s difficult to get scientific evidence when archaeologists are not free to excavate, there is no historical evidence that Muhammad himself had anything to do with it. Mecca seems to have been still desert during Muhammad’s lifetime. If the mosque of the two qiblahs can be proven to date to Muhammad’s time, there would have to be something historical or archaeological to prove that Muhammad’s followers did not reach that area in his lifetime. It doesn’t really affect the question in any other way, surely? What seems to have happened is that during the first Civil War amongst Muhammad’s followers the Umayyads chased out the Hashimites from Bakka = Feiran and they fled to the Arabian desert where they set up the “New Bakka/Mecca” carrying the black stone from Sinai with them. The Hashimites of Mesopotamia recognized this new Mecca because of its Hashimite associations.

  11. Yes, and even if it was shown that the Masjid of the two qiblahs dates from the 7th century, it would be difficult to determine its exact date accurately, I.e. whether it was built during or immediately after the Prophet’s life, as there were probably people from various Arabic locations among the nomadic followers of Mohamad. The Quraanic passage regarding the “change of qiblah” is so vague that you can’t even tell if it’s meant as a historical or an allegorical reference.
    In my opinion, if there was a change of prayer direction during Mohamad’s lifetime it was probably towards Sinai, the site of the first revelation (a “neutral” site available to all compared to the ethnocentric sanctuaries in Jerusalem, Shechem or today’s Maccah), a theme that perhaps echoes in John 4:20-21.

  12. Agree totally on idea that the change of qiblah in Muhammad’s own time was from Jerusalem to Sinai, the latter called in the Othmanic Quran Masjid al-Haram, the mosque of the Sanctuary. (Othmanic Quran al-Baqarah 2:138ff.) This is a reference to the sanctuary where Hagar found the fountain opened up by God on Sinai, subsequently changed into an idolatrous site, then restored to the worship of the God of Abraham by Muhammad. From what I have been able to discover about the murky origins of the Mosque of the Two Qiblahs in present-day Medina, it has undergone several extensive restructurings, the latest in 1987, when the earlier two prayer-niches (indicating the directions of qiblah) were reduced to one (!) and that the one facing Saudi Mecca (of course). The other originally faced north towards Sinai/Jerusalem (difficult to be more precise without more detailed scholarly materials). The earliest structure was built around AD 626, within Muhammad’s lifetime. When the restructuring was done in 1987 a good report was made of the older levels, and the foundation stones of the earlier mosque revealed that the building faced north (Sinai/Jerusalem). In the earliest period the whole structure (wherever any mosque was located) was oriented towards the qiblah.

  13. Yes, the identification of Masjid el-Haraam with the Sinai sanctuary is certainly correct as it is the only candidate that fits the narrative of having originated as a site revered by monotheists (Moses, Elijah, Desert Fathers) and then having turned into a pagan cultic center before Mohamad.
    The dating of the mosque of qiblatain to Mohamad’s days is interesting. Perhaps there was a connection between the Prophet and the people of Madina though it is not clear if Mohamad himself ever lived or visited Madina. The Jewish merchant networks probably connected his early followers to various trading centers accross the Arabian lands.
    The so-called “Constitution of Madina” is also an enigma. It, of course, is known only from a copy of a copy but is taken as authentic by many. Perhaps the early muhajiroon consisted of members of various localities and they certainly had influence in more than just one city. I think there is an argument that the Quraishi name originally meant something like “congregation”, “assembly”, perhaps pointing to multiethnic composition of Mohamad’s followers.
    Tom Holland and Michael Cook have pointed to monotheistic tendencies already among pre-Mohamad Arabs so we don’t really know what kind of religion was followed by, say, 7th century people of Madina or those who built the earliest layer of the Qiblatain mosque.

  14. I’m guessing totally here, but I presume Medina was on the caravan route to Yemen, and its connections were principally with Nabataea, Ammonites, Moabites etc. The latter area is or includes Yathrib. This was of interest early on to Nabonidus as his “campaign” so called by himself was doubtless directed at securing his possessions in Negev, Sinai, Levant generally, against insurrection. The so called mosque in Medina could be any early place of worship oriented towards (say) Jerusalem, perhaps and most probably Jewish. Later it was occupied by followers of Muhammad, at the edges of the zone which was more central to their interests at the time, viz. Sinai, Palestine, Syria etc. When Muhammad passed on in Ar-Moab he was buried there, and his near relatives were based there too. During the Civil War they took his remains to the farthest edge of their zone, viz. present-day Medina, the name perhaps intended to link the new location with the “city of Midian” Ar-Moab, where his original tomb was. (Some doubt that Muhammad’s remains are actually now held in Medina, as access is restricted.) All this is conjecture, but there are no hard historical facts, apart from the sources quoted in the Original Christian Quran. The Quraishi tribe still exists in Sinai (the original location), around Feiran, which is where Muhammad was reared.

  15. Thank you, sounds logical. Perhaps Yathrib/Iathrippa/Iatribu as the land of Jethro’s nomadic tribe was a relatively wide area, stretching from Dead Sea region towards Gulf of Aqaba and southeast along Red Sea coast. In the 7th century geographic mind it could, perhaps, include a town as south as modern Madina. In essence Yathrib with it’s Midianite connotations would constitute the heartland of early Islam with Madina pethaps serving as its southernmost center.
    Quraishi tribe in Sinai sounds interesting, can you refer to a source (online or printed) where to learn more about it?

  16. On Quraishi in Sinai I have a section at
    The Korashy (variously spelled) are (or were at the turn of the 20th century) the second most important subdivision of the Szowaleha tribe of the Towara Beduin. This is Muhammad’s native tribe and occupied Faran at the time he received the Revelation via the great “Nestorian” prophet Sergius Bahira.

  17. Interesting. In the text the Korashy were said to have originated in Hejaz. But should they be connected to the Saracens that were robbing the Christian monks at Sinai in pre-Islamic days? Bedouins, of course, are nomadic in definition and probably had trade or marital relations to tribes living on a wider area from Egypt delta to Hejaz and beyond.

  18. Since history for most Arabs begins with the Muslim invasions we can probably conclude the “migration from Hejaz” was in fact a statement of the relationship between the Korashy in Hejaz and the Korashy in Sinai, and obviously the movement is likely to have been from Sinai into Hejaz with the Muslim invasions. Undoubtedly the principal dealings of the late Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire was with the Saracen state in Sinai (centered on Faran). This is where Muhammad was located so we can conclude the Korashy (Quraishi) tribe to which he belonged was the same Korashy tribe still found in Sinai in the medieval period.

  19. Yes, and the text you cited interestingly connects Szoealeha also to Yitro’s Midianite tribe suggesting the Sinai Bedouins had ancient ties to tribes that had inhabited the region from the Biblical times.
    Many times northern Bedouines are presented in modern sources as recent arrivals, as if the Saracens/Ishmaelites/Midianites mentioned in pre-Islamic sources had somehow disappeared without a trace. But the earliest Christian sources that used the names “Saracens” and “Ishmaelites” on Arab invaders depict a continuity rather than discontinuity of the demographics of the regions from eastern Egypt to Transjordan.
    Your mention of Arab histories beginning from the times of the invasion is also interesting. I think Islamic communities in general tend to date their genesis to the time of their conversion. A non-Arab example would be the traditions of various Turkic tribes that view their origins in light of the conversion, usually with claims of Mirzade or Sayyid genealogy.

  20. Fact is even Ammonites and Moabites still existed under that name at time Muhammad was in Sinai, as can be seen from the accounts of worship of idols at shrine of Abraham and Ishmael. This shows the Biblical landscape was still familiar, and so also would be the City of Midian at Ar-Moab, which was the ancient location of Baal-Peor.

  21. I wonder if the deity name K’abar mentioned by Artzruni was in fact a corruption of the Arabic name qabar, ‘grave’, perhaps pointing to confusion between the two early Muslim sanctuaries: Abraham’s tomb (qabr Ibrahim) in Hebron and the Sinaitic sanctuary (ka’abat)?

  22. No this is definitely the name Kabar “the Great One” meaning the Great Mother (“the Heavenly Venus” or Allat) worshiped in tandem with Dusares. This is why the belief spread in Christian circles in the early Islamic period that the cry Allahu Akbar was actually and properly the pagan cry Allah wa-Kabar, “Allah (the male god) and Kabar (the female)!”. The “Akbar” bit does raise suspicions because of its unusual form (in the context of a religious hurrah). It would mean that like the Black Stone, old pagan elements from the idolatrous days in the shrine on Sinai were retained amongst the followers of Muhammad though he did his best to rid his community of them. On the earlier point re. Yathrib, note Jethro’s name was originally Yether (Yatr) and ribu means “multitude” thus Iatr(r)ibu would be “the throng (multitude) of Jethro”. This very probable etymology confirms the tribal nature of the geographical term.

  23. Yes, Kabar as a reference to Allat/Venus sounds logical, same with the etymology of Yathrib. So Yathrib would indeed refer to the Midianite territory in a wider sense, perhaps at one time having functioned as the general name of the loose political or trade league of mainly Jewish inhabited oasis from Dead Sea to perhaps Madyan, Tayma and al-Madina. I think most of these Jews were exiles and thus prefered to call the area under their control by an old geographic name related to Moses’ exile.

  24. I don’t know whether it would be true to say this area as a whole had a large population of Jews, as we’re talking here about east of the Dead Sea and southward. I would think it was mainly Nabataean in Muhammad’s days, but a large number of Jews (c. 12,000) immigrated into Ar-Moab, that is Midian-Medina, from Edessa after some conflict in the latter place just before Muhammad fled to Midian from Pharan-Mecca. These were the Jews with whom Muhammad allied and whom he led back into Israel in order to re-install them in their native land.

  25. Hello, we discussed a year ago about the original Sinaitic context of Quraan and the earliest layer of Islam. There was a word about the Sinaitic Badouin tribe Qararsha, allegedly descending from Prophet Mohamad’s tribe. I managed to find a source that explicitly connects this tribe to Wadi Feiran, Quraish (tribal confederation in Quraan) and the protectors of the Sinaitic monastery:

    “Qararsha, owning the palm groves of Wadi Feiran claim relationship with the Koreish (Quraish). In 1838 the Qararsha were excluded as protectors (ghafirs) of St. Catherine’s.” (Source: Field, Henry: “The Faiyum: Sinai Sudan Kenya”, University of California Press, 1952, p. 94).

  26. Hello again. Yes, I note what Thomas Artzruni says: “At that time there were some despotic brothers in the regions of Arabia Petraea in the place (called) P’aran {Pharan}, which is now called Mak’a {Mecca} — warlike chieftains, worshipers of the temple of the Ammonites of the image called Samam and K’abar. It happened that one of them, called Abdla, died leaving a son of tender age called Mahmet {Muhammad}. His uncle Abutalib took and raised him until he reached puberty.” Here Muhammad’s family, of the Kureishy tribe, is definitely located in Pharan (Feiran), and this tradition has very ancient roots as can be seen from this link on the site:
    Note also this on the Bedouin of Sinai: “1. The Szowaleha (Sawâlihah, Robinson; Soelhe, Ruppell; Saualhe, Lepsius). This is the largest of all, and boasts of being the first that settled in the land. They can be traced historically back to the Jedham, who were in Mohammed’s time the well-known inhabitants of Madian, on the east side of what is now the Gulf of Akaba. They seem to have entered the Sinai Peninsula somewhere between the seventh and the thirteenth centuries. If we can ascribe any historical foundation to Mohammed’s words, “Welcome are the ancestors of the wife of Moses; welcome the race of Shoaib” (i.e. Jethro), it would be certain that they are directly connected with the fate of Joseph (Gen. xxxvii. 27, 28), and with the marriage of Moses to the daughter of their priest Jethro (Ex. ii. 15, xviii. 14-23), as well as with the later fortunes of Israel (Num. xxx.). In the time of the greatest Mohammedan prosperity they were a cultivated and powerful people, far in advance of their descendants, as is manifested by the monuments of that time which remain, sparsely met with, it is true, yet satisfactorily exhibiting marks of what the Towara attained to after taking possession of the central mountain land of Sinai.” and “The subdivisions of the Szowaleha inhabiting the district mainly west and north-west of the convent, Burckhardt gives as four: 1. Ulad Said (Aulad Said, Robinson; Wellad Said, Lepsius); 2. Korashy (Kurrâshy, Robinson); 3. Owareme (Awarimeh, Robinson; Auarmi, Lepsius); and 4. Rahamy.” and “(2.) The Korashy (variously spelled by travellers). This seems to be a tribe which once came from the Hejas, and which was not affiliated at the outset in blood with the Towara, but which has at length become thoroughly blended with them. Their late sheikh Saleh was the first sheikh of the Peninsula. They seem to be out of favour at the convent; but under the powerful administration of their leader, they have long negotiated all bargains for safe conduct across the country. Schimper tells us that there are two subdivisions recognised among them.” — all these in context at:
    Your source is an interesting one, as it shows the Feiran group still held this tradition as late as the 1950s. In the 19th century there were several detailed stories still told about Muhammad’s presence in the region, including the hoofprint of his horse etc. etc.

  27. One, or actually two, more things:

    1. There are hadiths according to which the sacred valley where Moses saw the burning bush was a valley west of Makkah. Also some Muslim traditions connect the standing at ‘Arafah (a Hajj rite) as a reminder of the Israelites standing at the foot of Mount Sinai. These, among other points, hint to a Sinaitic origin of some of the Hajj traditions and indicate a transfer of older Sinaitic lore to the new shrine at Makkah.

    2. Another point regarding Hajj rites: there is a rock that is walked around named “Marwah”, mentioned also in the Quraan. A growing trend is to view Quraanic text as containing substantially Syriac loans. In Syriac letters /w/ and /b/ sometimes shift, so we could read MRWH as MRBH, that is, “Meribah” which is the place where Moses struck the rock and which was identified by Cosmas as “the mountain six miles away from Pharan” (i.e. Mt Serbal, 10 km from Wadi Feiran).

  28. Thank you for these very interesting sidelights on the site of Mecca. It is as plain as day that Sinai (Serbal) was the original location. I find it incredible, almost, that scholars could have been blinded to historical facts by the weight of later Muslim tradition. I would point out that the Original Christian Quran has been updated in one section at this link: the added comments there point out that the place-name Boachah Ashur at Genesis 25:18 must be a place-name for semantic reasons and cannot mean “as thou goest to Assyria”. This is the original Becca (Mecca), viz. Boachah Ashur, “Frantic Step”, still surviving in the place-name Markah (= Makkah, Mecca) at the exit of Wadi Feiran on the Gulf of Suez.

  29. Yes, I wonder the scholarly blindness, too. The weight of the hadith appears to be too strong for the critical-minded scholars as well. There are, however, some fresh exceptions:


    I’m not native in Arabic and understand the language only cursory; if you find more details to the argument, please share.

    As the so-called Quran-only community is growing, a fuller (and more accurate) understanding of the Sinaitic background to Mohamad’s message might spread in the near future.

    One other example, again Egyptian, could be this one:

    Dr. Mansour is in effect “re-changing the qiblah” from Jerusalem to Sinai though formally adhering to Makkah as well. Some of the clearest minds of the Islamic world are at the brink of realization, it seems.

  30. These are moving in the right (the historical) direction. It’s a joy to see it happening. The Islamic world should abandon the myths about Saudi Arabian Mecca, which all scholars admit are myths. It doesn’t mean the Saudi Arabian Mecca is downgraded. It was where the Hashimites fled after being ousted by the Ummayyads from the original Mecca at Mount Sinai. What is demeaning about that? Nothing. It was a violent takeover of Muhammad’s birthplace by the admittedly irreligious Ummayyads. Only the black stone in Saudi Arabia (if it is the original) is a direct link to Sinai. It could probably be tested scientifically for evidence of its physical place of origin. Of course there is the question of its authenticity as it was stollen and “replaced” in the late first millennium AD.

  31. Yes, I, too, wonder why would it be such an issue to admit the historical facts.

    There are also other more or less obvious hints to the Sinaitic origin of the Quraan.

    Surah 24 verse 35 compares God to a light that is lit with oil from “blessed olive tree that is neither of the east nor of the west”. From 23:20 we know that this olive tree grows on Sinai. In Rabbinic literature both the olive tree and its oil are symbols of the Revelation, and “neither east nor west” is a reference to Sinai being sandwiched between Israel and Egypt, i.e. on a neutral ground. Moreover, these Quraanic passages reflect the verse in Leviticus 18:2-4:

    “You are not to engage in the activities found in the land of Egypt, where you used to live; and you are not to engage in the activities found in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you; nor are you to live by their laws. You are to obey my rulings and laws and live accordingly”.

    Hence, God’s Revelation stems neither from the paganism of Egypt nor of Canaan but was given as a new ruling in the wilderness of Sinai.

    Ultimately the Quraan is here originating in the milieu of Christian ascetics who, following in the footsteps of the “first monk” John the Baptist, voluntarily “returned to the wilderness” (a religious trend that was prevalent in the Second Temple Judaism and functioned as a statement against the corrupt priestly and Pharisaic rule).

    The wilderness wandering had never lost its significance to the Jewish people and in Psalms it is used frequently as a parallelism to pilgrimage. Hence, in Psalm 84:5-6 we encounter “the valley of the bakha (’emeq ha-bakha) which the righteous wanderers turn into a place of springs (i.e. an oasis). The parallelism to the exodus narrative makes it most natural that this “Valley of the Weeping” poetically stands for Refidim (Wady Feiran oasis, Bakkah), where the thirsty Israelites murmured and where Moses brought forth water from the rock.

    “The east and the west” again features in Quraan 7:137: “And We made a people, considered weak, inheritors of lands in both east and west, – lands whereon We sent down Our blessings”. From 28:5-6 we learn that Israelites were understood as having took in possession the Egyptian lands as well when the Pharaoh and his hosts were drown in the sea of reeds. This, in fact, is in accordance with the Rabbinic interpretation that explains that only a minority of all existing Israelites actually left Egypt with the majority remaining.

    So, the Israelites inherited *both* Egypt (west) *and* Israel/Canaan (east). The passage is sometimes translated as refering to “eastern and western borderlands”; hence, in order to have Egypt on your western border and Israel on your eastern you’ll have to be standing somewhere in Sinai peninsula. Thus, as the Surah 7 is a so-called Makkan surah then this means that the “Makkah” where it was revealed to Mohamad had to be situated in Sinai.

    Another point: according to Islamic lore the original possessors of the Ka’aba were Amalekites (‘Imliq). This makes perfect sense if the original Ka’aba was in or around Refidim (Wadi Feiran) where the Israelites first fought against the Amalekites.

  32. Nice analysis! Really good points all of them. On the last point, that is very strong evidence of the Sinai milieu. Of course Paran was originally the Sinai Paran not some mythical region in Saudi Arabia. Any historian worth his salt would have to agree. And I like that reference to Bachah! But also you will find that the tribe who inhabited Ishmael’s land in Arabic tradition was specifically the tribe of Joram. This is one of the most common words in the Sinai Aramaic (so-called Nabataean) inscriptions. For example Garam-el-baali, in which the initial Garam = Joram. It meant something like “substance”. The names in the Sinai inscriptions frequently feature this element g-r-m. The Joramites inhabited “Mecca” before Ishmael arrived. There was some conflict between the two. The same is noticed in the Sinaitic Exodus Inscriptions on this site — a conflict in early days between two tribes claiming possession of Feiran. See evidence at this link: in the section “Ancient Authorities Referred To”.

  33. What you say of Joram is extremely interesting, tying these historical threads together ever tighter.

    Moving a little out of the tangent, I would like to point an interesting detail regarding Prophet Mohamad’s genealogy. According to Ibn Hisham there were 28 generations between Ishmael and Mohamad. I think the approximate length of a generation is said to be something between 20 and 30 years. Ignoring the legendary longevity of the Biblical patriarchs, as the Prophet is said to have been born around 570 CE, then 28 generations backwards would lead us roughly to the second century BCE.

    Such a late date for Ishmael and Abraham is, of course, historically untenable. During the last two centuries before the start of the common era Israel was under Hashmonean rule. According to historical sources some Hashmonean rulers such as John Hyrcanus (164-134 BCE) and Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BCE) forcibly converted Arab subjects (Ituraeans and Idumeans) into Jewish faith. Hence, the genesis of the Islamic genealogical tree is timed exactly to the period when the Nabatean Arabs were put under an influx of Judaic elements. In essence, Arabs as an ethno-religiously self-conscious entity (“Ishmaelites”) was born only during the 1st or 2nd centuries BCE, and this was due to the Jewish influence of Hashmoneans.

    Interestingly, it was in or around the beginning of the common era when the Nabateans took hold of Sinai, and the first mention of a cultic center in Sinai is also first attested during the 1st century BCE (Diodorus). Perhaps the builders of “Bakkah” were in fact Judaized Nabateans, who were later re-identified as having been “Abraham” and “Ishmael” (as in the Quraanic narative). The very purpose of the (re-?)building of Bakkah in Wadi Feiran was probably due to knowledge of Biblical locations inherited from Jewish tradition. Likewise, it was probably these Judaized Nabateans who, after converting to Christianity, transferred that knowledge to the Christian desert hermits.

    One of these hermits (“Sergius”) later initiated Mohamad into the old silsilah of divine seers.

  34. Here I think you have gone from analysis to speculation, which can be useful as a mental exercise, but irrelevant from a purely historical perspective. The proof that there were people in Sinai long before the Nabataeans of the Classical era is the existence of the Aramaic inscriptions, written in a script similar to the later Nabataean, but more primitive. There are no Greek or Roman names amongst the thousands of inscriptions, they are very proper (not “graffiti” as they are commonly termed), and have many primitive features as explained in the Sinai Exodus Inscriptions on this site. Also they use a system of numerics different from the Classical Nabataean. To accept the theory that the whole Ishmaelite history was invented in Hasmonaean times would be to throw overboard history itself, as well as archaeology in the case of the Aramaic inscriptions. But notice how accurately the Bible traces an early pre-Mosaic settlement in Paran (including Sinai) by Ishmael, which did not exist there still in the days of Moses (something happened in that case, probably absorption into the clan of Midian to the east). Then the Exodus, then the further rise of Midian in the east. This fits the Sinaitic evidence. Also a pre-existing tribe of Joram is attested, as the Arab tradition records, in the names of the Aramaic inscriptions Garam = Joram, it being natural that Ishmaelite (Nebajothite = early “Nabataean”) type names and Midianite type names would be borne by the Israelites in Egypt and therefore attested in the Aramaic inscriptions. Incidentally, it is quite easy to test the dating of these supposedly “late” or “Nabataean” inscriptions. Just a radiocarbon dating of the patina will prove it conclusively (that they are 15th century BC, as suggested here, not late first millennium). Also pottery analysis at the foot of their locations. Can’t some Israeli professor do these simple tests? Course ISIS doesn’t help.

  35. Yeah, I believe it would be relatively easy to test the date of those inscriptions, hopefully someone will do it in the future. By the way, have you checked this website:

    There are interesting points that might enlighten why Refidim became such an important location for the hermits and in which sense the fight against Amalek made Moses a precursor to Jesus and the exemplar to all on the spiritual path.

    Moses being the most frequently appearing name in the Quraan is, in my opinion, yet another indication to Sinaitic origin of the Quraan and the reason why later sirah literature used Moses as a “model” to the (largely fabricated) Mohamad narrative.

    One more thing: in the Quraan Bakkah is called “guidance” to mankind. Guidance, (hodu), I suppose, as it represented the place of Revelation, as with the Hebrew word Torah that stands for “instruction” rather than law. Likewise, shari’a originally stood for “path to a water spring”, again associating the Revelation with the concept of guidance. Hence, Sinaitic Bakkah as the site of the Revelation is by definition the “guidance to mankind”.

  36. Thank you for the link. It’s got some good, recent photos. Of course, it’s also got the usual pseudo-religious clap-trap on the site of Mount Sinai, as it mistranslates an ancient report to say Mount Sinai is 35 miles away from Feiran. Not at all, 6 Roman miles from Pharan to Mount Sinai as Sinai = Serbal (earliest account, Cosmas Indicopleustes). The true translation of this document with background in full is found on this site in the Sinai Exodus Inscriptions. Links here: and here: In the first of these links you will see that Sinai is 35 miles from the desert of Pharan, as shown by the context, not the city of Pharan. The fact that Pharan is the site of Rephidim does not mean Serbal is not Sinai as there is nothing in the Biblical text which states that the desert of Sinai at the foot of the mountain was a long way away from Repidim. In fact it is its proximity which is noticed as it is the site of the miracle of water from the rock (of Horeb) which is connected with Rephidim. The propaganda is immense as the Greek Orthodox group wants to keep its lucrative tourist business going at St Catherine’s.
    There is an interesting article at which is about a camel petroglyph (rock-picture) in Wadi Nasib Sinai near Serbal. The camel picture:

    camel sinai

    This is dated by its location to 15th century BC, but as you will see by other examples in the Sinai Exodus Inscriptions it is identical to the so-called “Nabataean graffiti” camels which appear quite commonly, sometimes incorporated into the texts. You can see an example to compare at Here it is:

    lepsius camel

  37. Hello my friend,

    two more clues towards the correct location of Quraanic Bakkah as Wadi Fairaan:

    Abraham prays in the Quraan (14: 37) “Our Lord, I have settled some of my descendants in an uncultivated valley near Your sacred House, our Lord, that they may establish prayer. So make hearts among the people incline toward them and provide for them from the fruits that they might be grateful.”

    Now the Arabic word for ‘fruits’ in this verse is thamaraat. As Quraan was originally composed without the diacritical markings the word ‘fruits’ could also be read as tamraat, ‘date fruits’, the fruit most frequently mentioned in the Quraan and the fruit that Wadi Firaan has always been most famous of. Date palm is also the only fruit plant native to the oasis with all other cultivated fruit trees having been introduced by Christian monks from Suria and Palestine.

    If the Quraanic Bakkah is understood as the Biblical Rephidim then Abraham’s prayer came fulfilled when Moses later brought water out of rock and made the uncultivated valley cultivable.

    Another clue regarding the significance of the date palm is the Quraanic story of the date palm that provided shelter and fruits for Mary during her birth pangs (Quraan 19: 2-33). Quraan itself does not identify the location but it is noteworthy that a very similar legend is told in Pseudo-Matthew 20: 1-2 and this version of the story locates it to the wilderness Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus were traveling on their flee to Egypt. Hence, a location somewhere in Sinai would be most natural.

    In the Christian version of the legend the miraculous appearance of a water spring also features, perhaps drawing inspiration from the water-out-of-rock miracle and the story of Hagar, Ishmael and the well – both of these Biblical incidents having been located to Wadi Fairaan.

    Thus, the religious background to these Quraanic legends appears to be a Christian community that associated special holiness to this ancient Badwin pilgrimage center in Southern Sinai.

  38. Blessings in Jesus. These look like really solid source-based items of evidence on the true location of Mecca/Bakka. I will attempt, God willing, to chase them up as they are so interesting. Will probably update this comment shortly with some reflections on your findings. I can hardly credit how the 200 years between Muhammad and the Hadith legends is not taken into account by many “respectable” historians, perhaps through fear of offending Muslim colleagues or Muslim paymasters. The historical, contemporary accounts as in “Sebeos” should be the starting-point for all historical approaches to the origin of Islam, along with a critical approach to the text of the Quran based on Al-Kindi. If you look at the map I’ve included below you will see “Markha” (= Markah, Makkah, that is Mecca) clearly visible in the “Plain of Markah” through which the stream from Wadi Feiran debouches into the Red Sea. Thus the Wadi Feiran itself (called Phoinikon, the Palm-grove, by the Greeks, a name that was applied to the exit of the stream on the Red Sea) was known as “Markah” (Mecca) by the Bedouin, and the plain where it outlets is still so called now. Some time in the Medieval or Renaissance period the name of the whole Plain (Markah) became attached to the remains of an ancient small settlement in the more northerly section of the Plain which was believed to mark the spot where the Israelites exited the Red Sea. This is what appears on the map below. But the name “Markah/Makka” (Mecca) as Thomas Artzruni says was the name of Feiran in his days, meaning the outlet of Wadi Feiran at the sea.

    Clysma Markah

    You can see Clysma on the western shore of the Red Sea (where the Israelites entered the Red Sea under Moses) and Markah on the eastern side opposite (where they exited), though the name Markah attaches to the whole plain southwards of the site marked here, including the exit of Wadi Feiran to the sea. Hence Wadi Feiran was called Markah (= Makka, Mecca) in the Middle Ages.


    UPDATE 020418

    The reference to date-palms, if we read the word this way, is interesting, and certainly makes sense in the geographical context (Wadi Feiran). Not certain, however, that a precise type of fruit is more appropriate in the narrative context.

    As regards Pseudo-Matthew the journey of Jesus’ foster-family here seems to be across the northern section of Sinai to the Delta, and no mention is made of a luxurious Oasis, merely of a single palm. The uniqueness of this palm is emphasized, and the lack of other sustenance, so probably this is not Feiran.

  39. Hello, for a long time.

    Some posts back I suggested that Quraanic ’Marwah’ (MRWH) is probably an Aramaic-influenced rendering of Hebrew ’Meribah’ (MRBH), as /w/ and /b/ sometimes interchange in Aramaic.

    Now Quraan pairs Marwah with something named Safa. I did a bit of research into the ortographics of Syriac and it appears that if you write the Hebrew word ’Massah’ with Syriac script (Mim-Semkat-Alep) – instead of translating it as was done in Peshitta – you get a word that visually resembles the Arabic word ’Safa’ (Sad-Faa-Alif).

    Note that the final He-letter of Hebrew is replaced here by Alef as is customary in Aramaic. Another example would be the change of the final H-letter in Hebrew name ’Moshe-h’ into A-letter in Aramaic and Arabic (hence ’Mus-a’ in Quraan).

    Also note that the original Quraan had no diacritical markings so eg. Q and F would look identical. This would likewise make it easier to confuse between Aramaic S and Arabic F. You may want to have a look at the relevant letter forms in both languages in order to note the resemblance. It was probably even stronger in hand-written, calligraphic copies of the old.

    In Quraan Safa and Marwah are mentioned in the context of Hajj. The nature of them are in no way described. In Islamic pilgrimage tradition they represent the two pieces of rock between which Hagar is claimed to have run back and forth in search of water. Hence, they are directly connected to thirst, desperation and the miraculous manifestation of a water spring (called ’Zamzam’ in Islam).

    Likewise, it was at Massah and Meribah where Israelites murmurred of thirst and desperation and where Moses brought forth water out of rock.

    This is, again, an example of the originally Sinaitic lore that has become transferred to the current location of the Islamic sanctuary at Makkah.

  40. Blessings in Jesus! Hey you caught me unprepared. I haven’t even managed to look properly at your previous comment, and the very interesting points you made in it, let alone this new one! These points you make here are equally interesting. I’m going to try to say something relevant on both comments asap, but I’m pretty busy right now, so there may be a slight delay. Straightaway on Safa, I seem to remember Serbal is called the “inscribed” Mount by the Bedouin (at least it was in the early 19th century), from the Semitic root s(aspirated)-p-r. This would easily pass into Arabic Safa. That doesn’t rule out, of course, a simple clerical error, like you suggest. I tend to hold to the traditional names, unless forced to abandon them by the facts! Don’t you think these were probably passed down orally at first, then put into writing later?

  41. Yes, it was certainly first oral and later scriptural, the supposed mistake perhaps having taken place during the physical copying of early documents.

    The Arabic script in Quraan rose ortographically from the Nabatean alphabet which itself was a derivative of the Aramaic letters. The earliest Quraan copies had the Kufic script which still has that Aramaic look in it.

    The immediate pre-Islamic predecessors to the Bedwins of Arabia Petrea would have been the Baptised Nabateans and the Surian and Egyptian monks and hermits living amongst them. Hence, the formation of what was to become literal Arabic was probably a linguistic continuum from Aramaic through mixed Aramaic-Arabic to Arabic.

    Earliest physical copies of Quraan were probably written in this mixed language. It was perhaps the scribes of Uthman whose compilation and linguistic incompetence in Syriac produced some of the obscurities in the modern Quraan. In my opinion, Safa and Marwah would be examples of those as the two have never been fully explained etymologically yet make perfect sense when viewed as scribal errors.

    Please share with me what you know of the old name of Serbal when you have time!

    God bless!

  42. Blessings in Jesus! Great points, acute observations. Again I’m going to do a quick reply here as I want to look into your arguments more thoroughly before giving you a decent reply. Better to know what you’re talking about before spouting forth. When I was doing the initial research on the Sinai Exodus Inscriptions, I came across some references, as I recall, to Marwah and Safa. If I remember correctly there were mountains in the Sinai Pharan (Feiran) area with these names in the 19th century. I will have to look these references up to confirm the above. You can still find the name Safsafa in the Jebel Musa area near St Katherine’s, though that, of course, is not the original Mount Sinai. I must say I like the idea Massa was corrupted into Safa through the Syriac. It’s true there is a close resemblance between those letters in the different scripts. However if it is true a Marwah and Safa existed in Feiran area that would clinch the identity of the mountains referred to in the Hagar story. Again I suspect the names Marwah and Safa were applied to two of the 7 peaks of Serbal in the 19th century. In those days the Bedouin were in touch with their ancient medieval traditions. European explorers were able to draw on the Bedouins’ traditional knowledge, and their writings preserved them for us.

    ==== UPDATE
    I have checked this out a little. My reason for locating Marwa and Safa on Serbal was that traditionally they are associated with Mecca (on Serbal). However, the Quranic reference reads as follows, Al-Baqarah 2:158: “Safa and Marwah are among the symbols set up by God; there is nothing wrong if anyone goes on a pilgrimage to the House, or performs a minor pilgrimage, in walking to and fro between them. Of anyone who does good of his own accord, God is appreciative, and aware.” You can see that the walking between Marwa and Safa is treated as something similar to the pilgrimage to Mecca (“the House”). The latter was a shrine associated originally with Hagar and Ishmael. Similarly we can conclude Marwa and Safa. The Bible tells us Hagar and Ishmael were sent out by Abraham into the desert of Paran from Beer-Sheba. The desert immediately south of Beer-Sheba features two nearby locations called Murra and Safa (near modern Sede Boqer). As the idol El-Khalasa (Venus) was situated in this vicinity in Muslim tradition, between Merwa and Safa, so Elousa (Khalasa), named after the goddess, is located west of and midway along the line as the crow flies between Murra and Safa. The names in this craggy region are liable to evolution so the earlier forms may well have been Merwa and Safa. The pass of Safa (near Murra) is known as Safr also and in the Peshitta appears as Sepharvim translating Aqrabbim as in Ascent of Aqrabbim. It is likely Hagar (who is commemorated in this same region) actually wandered here between the two locations. To follow in her footsteps became a kind of mini-hajj for later Muslims, permitted by the Othmanic Quran, in spite of the idol of Khalasa there, in the same way and in the same spirit the hajj pilgrimage was permitted to what had earlier been a pagan shrine at Mecca on Serbal.

  43. Hello!

    What you write is most interesting! There was certainly amalgamation of a variety of pre-Islamic practices in the Hajj tradition, among them the Negev cult connected with Hagar.

    The story of Hagar does not feature in Quraan at all so the connection between Hagar and Safa/Marwah is probably a later construct. The tradition could, in fact, have formed as a mix of different tribal traditions, partly connected to Sinai lore, partly to Hagar-Negev lore and partly to the pagan worship of the Zamzam spring in Makkah. The common factor would naturally have been the miraculous manifestation of a water spring.

    Regardless of the possible Hebrew-Syriac etymologies of Safa and Marwah, I came up with also another explanation to the terms. This hypothesis does not necessarily exclude the Syriac-based derivations as the first formative decades after the Prophet’s death probably consisted of fusion and confusion in written, oral and ritualistic traditions.

    In Arabic lexicons the term ‘safaah’ stands for “stone”, “rock”, “slate”, “schist”. Note that the only difference to ‘Safa’ is the transformation of the emphatic mark into a final H-letter – the two signs being, by the way, ortographically quite similar. Likewise, ‘marwah’ means “pebble”, “flint”.

    Could Safa actually stand for Hessy el-Khattatin, the big flat stone at the entrance to Wadi Feiraan which Bedwins claim to be the rock that Moses struck with the rod? Interestingly, there is an old tradition of throwing and heaping pebbles (‘marw’ in Arabic) around the rock, and the Bedwins believe that this ritual has healing effects.

    The Arabic verb used in Quraan 2:158, ‘T-W-F’, not so much means “to walk between” but rather “to walk around” (as the same verb is used to describe circumambulation of the Ka’aba). Perhaps the modern Hajj rite of Safa and Marwah is a derivative of the originally Sinaitic rite of circumambulating Hessy el-Khattatin, mixed with the traditions surrounding Hagar’s search for water.

    Thematically the connection is understandable and, as I noted earlier, the Quraanic story of Mary in birth pangs features also in the Christian book of Pseudo-Matthews that has the additional detail of a miraculous spring appearing. In the Christian version the incident took place in Sinai so there was probably an amalgamation of various Christian, Jewish and Nabatean legends which have produced the rituals we observe in Makkah today.

    In fact, in my opinion there is no ethnocentrism in Quraan, it is purely universal in its message though delivered through an Arab in Arabic language. The emphasis on the Ishmael-Hagar legends probably became more prominent only after the early Muslim movement was hijacked by the aggressive, pagan Gulf Arabs.

    God bless,

  44. Hello again and blessings in Jesus. Of course your connecting the Merwa and Safa stories with the original Mecca site on Serbal is because they are connected that way in the “new” Mecca in Saudi Arabia, based on the Hadith etc. But if we look at the HISTORICAL evidence all we’ve got really is the passage quoted above from the Othmanic Quran. All that tells us is that in the first part of the 7th century AD there were these places Safa and Merwa where people commemorated some traditional religious event in a kind of pilgrimage like the Hajj. That’s fine. Beyond that we’re dealing with the legends that developed out of the Othmanic Quran’s reference. These can be mined for information, and that is what I have tried to do. The most interesting and informative element in that information, to my mind, is the tradition that the idol of Khalisah was located between Merwa and Safa. That is a significant name. It is identical to the Aramaic Khalutsah = “the Stripped One” given to Venus in Arabia Petraea, whence the toponym Elousa. Now this same Elousa is identified with the land of Shur in the Targums (see Jastrow s.vv. Khalutsah and Khagra) in the two principal passages related to Ishmael and Hagar in the wilderness (Gen. 16. 7 and 25. 18). Jerome following Origen identifies the first location in Gen. 16, as I recall, with Elousa similarly, and this was in the Negev. The thing about the reference in Gen. 25. 18 is that this is the very passage mentioning Boachah Ashur (= Baka, Mecca) as the location of Ishmael in his latter days. Of course Elousa in Roman times was used like Petra as a general geographical term meaning the “land of the Ishmaelites” (= “Shur”), whereas the original precise location of Shur was nearer Egypt. However, the location of Boachah Ashur (Mecca) in “Elousa” (= Shur), would lead to a fusion of the traditions located around Elousa in the Negev (the first expulsion of Hagar) with those relating to Boachah Ashur on Serbal (the second expulsion). Amongst those traditions we may assume would be the placement of Elousa (= Khalutsah = Khalisa), meaning more particularly the idol of the “Stripped” Venus after whom Elousa was named, between Merwa and Safa, as Elousa in actually located midway adjacent to a line running between Murra and Safa in the Negev. That is where these names entered the tradition in my view.

  45. Hello,

    perhaps you are right with what you say and Safa-Marwah should be located outside Bakkah. I find the Elousa argument plausible yet there are also other options to consider.

    There are actually TWO wells/springs in Hagar’s story (Gen 16 and Gen 21). I find it probable that these two originally different wells were later fused together in Bedwin traditions.

    According to an argument the first of these wells (Beer le Chai Roi) was in fact in a small village between Little Petra (Siq el-Bareed) and Ain Musa, both close to Petra, Jordan.

    Hagar’s Well was between Qadesh and Bared (Gen 16:14). Qadesh was where Moses brought water out of rock for the second time (Num 20:1-13) and Jordanian legends locate that at Ain Musa. Interestingly, also this second place was called ’Meribah’ in the Bible (Num 20:13). Siq el-Bareed still appears to carry its ancient name (Bared).

    Now if my hypothesis of the linguistic connection between Biblical ’Meribah’ and Quraanic ’Marwah’ holds true then perhaps the Safa-Marwah represent Bared and Qadesh, the two ends of the route that Hagar wandered back and forth before reaching the Well, not in the Negevite setting but rather at Beer le Chai Roi (modern Ain el-Chai).

    In this scenario the etymology of Safa would be somewhat obscure. But even here I wouldn’t completely disregard the ’Massah’->’Safa’ hypothesis as there could be a confusion here to the Massah-Meribah of Exodus. This would be quite understandable due to the similarity of the incidents and as the name ’Meribah’ appears in both of these passages.

    Modern Islam locates Safa-Marwah at Makkah. If original Makkah/Bakkah was at Refidim/Pharan then the fusion of the Quraanic holy places would be natural as same type of miracles were associated to both of them. It is funny that the original meaning of Shari’a is ”a path to spring”.

    This is what the argument is based on:

    God bless,

  46. Blessings in Jesus. I agree here the location of the well of Hagar in the first episode was near Kadesh-Petra. Where Bered was is another question. However, the finding of Hagar by the Angel “on the way to Shur” only indicates that there was a road to Shur (adjoining Egypt) from the Kadesh-Petra area, which of course, makes perfect sense. The “way to Shur” may have passed south via the district adjoining Beer-Sheba, then to Kadesh-Petra, then to Shur, with multiple other possibilities. All that can be said is that Kadesh-Petra was in the near vicinity of the well, and in Jerome (Life of Hilarion 25, c. AD 350 [not the Onomasticon as I wrongly recalled]) we find the following stated about this district:
    “Moreover, the care he took to prevent any brother however humble or poor being passed over is evidenced by the journey which he once took into the desert of Cades to visit one of his disciples. With a great company of monks he reached Elusa [Al-Khalasa in the Negev], as it happened on the day when the annual festival had brought all the people together to the temple of Venus. (This goddess is worshipped on account of Lucifer [i.e. the Morning Star, so called by classical writers from its brightness, but Jerome surely also intends the reader to think of the fallen angel] to whom the Saracen nation is devoted.) The very town too is to a great extent semi-barbarous, owing to its situation. When therefore it was heard that Saint Hilarion was passing through (he had frequently healed many Saracens possessed by demons), they went to meet him in crowds with their wives and children, bending their heads and crying in the Syriac tongue Barech, that is, “Bless”.”
    Thus wherever Bered was it adjoined Kadesh-Petra, the well was between Petra and Bered, and this was in the same area as Elusa. Note here we have also the worship of Venus (Khalutsah, the “Stripped One”). Put this together with Shur and Boachah-Ashur, as the Targum does, and we have the idol of Khalisah at a pilgrimage-site, claimed later to be in the same location as Mecca, but actually near Elusa, so named after the goddess. To me this fixes the location also of Merwa and Safa (which are Arabic names) more securely than the possibility of Meribah = Merwa. The latter equation as you note leaves Safa unexplained, unless we resort to speculation re. corruption of the text.

  47. Hello friend,

    the Targums differ in their using of certain specific names. Likewise, different interpretations are possible and different tribal traditions surrounding them plausible. There were probably not just one but several places claimed to be “Hagar’s well”.

    In Targum Onqelos ”road to Shur” does not become ”road to Chalutza” but rather ”road to Hagra”. In Onqelos ”between Qadesh and Bared” becomes ”between Reqem and Hagra”. This Targum, then, appears to identify Shur with Hagra and Bared.

    Shur means ”Wall”, Hagra means ”Rock” and Bared means ”Hail/Ice/Snow”. Nabatean site Siq el-Bariid (”Cold Canyon”) is indeed a town hewn on rocky walls with the Arabic name ’Barid’ stemming from the same root as the Biblical Hebrew ’Bared’.

    According to some, the site was an elite suburb of close-by Petra and here foreign merchants were hosted and entertained. For Jews and other Non-Arabic travellers this place must have functioned as the facade and primary gateway to Petra, hence its name ’Hagra’ which was the Arabic translation of Greek ’Petra’ (”Rock”).

    Reqem (”Cave”) is usually taken as the original name of Petra, yet in the Targums ’Reqem’ is used in place of ’Qadesh’. Qadesh/Reqem was the location of the second water-out-of-rock miracle in Num 20. This miracle, according to tradition, took place not so much in Petra, but at Ain Musa, near Siq el-Bariid.

    Shur in Exodus is certainly attached to deserts East of Nile Delta but Shur in Genesis 16 appears to be a different location, probably representing the rock-cut habitations of what is now Petra and Siq el-Bariid. Or at least it was interpreted as such by some at least at some point in history. This is where I would locate Safa-Marwah, or more accurately, one of the various tribal traditions that later became fused in the present-day Makkan ritual lore. This, certainly, does not exclude the Safa-Murrah in Negev that would, perhaps, represent the tradition of some of the other tribes that joined the early Islamic movement.

    It is highly possible that the introduction of modern Makkah as the center of worship was quite easy as there must have been huge levels of confusion and disagreement among early Muslims regarding the identification of various Quraanic locations. No doubt the interpretation of Shur as Chalutza and the ancient Venus cult there were among the cultic aspects that are now present in the Hajj rituals at Makkah.

    The Biblical passages of Marah, Massa and the two Meribahs are, indeed, quite confusing and perhaps in later folklore fused together. A fusion of some kind is actually present in the Quraanic verse 2:60 where the Exodus Massah-Meribah appears to have been fused with the earlier passages of Mara-Elim with the twelve springs of water.

    All this makes me wonder if the original “change of Qiblah” was related to Jerusalem at all. If we look at the relevant passages we note that neither the first nor the second Qiblah is being named. The traditional account viewed the change as replacing the Judaic orientation of the Holy Land (Q-B-L, “orientation”, “tradition” as in the Hebrew ‘Qabbalah’) with the ethno-Arabic traditions of Hagar-Ishmael (Bakkah/Makkah). This view has two problems in my opinion.

    Firstly, there was nothing new in the Ishmaelite traditions of Arabs. There are reports of Arabs worshiping in Mamre-Hebron already prior to Muhamad and the Ishmaelite background to Arabs was likewise noted during Hashmonean times when the Hashmonean regime expanded to Negev and Trans-Jordanian deserts. In fact, the co-operation between Mohamad’s Arabs and his Jewish allies was itself based on this claimed connection.

    Secondly, and more importantly, post-Qiblah-change Islam interpreted itself in universalistic and supersessionistic terms. A concentrated focus on tribalistic ethno-mythology would have run against this tendency. As a result of this contradiction and confusion Islam has become something of an ethnic supremacist movement of Arabs and the claimed descendants of the Prophet (Sayids/Mirzas) – a mission that, in my opinion, finds no basis in Quraan which is not ethnocentric but universalistic in its orientation.

    On the other hand, if the first Qiblah represented the ethno-mythology surrounding the stories of Hagar and Ishmael (a cult solely based on and probably also supported by the Jewish contacts) and the second Qiblah the Sinaitic sanctuary (Pharan) then the Quraanic supersessionism would make much more sense. The cultic focus on Sinai – the site of Revelation where the nation of Israel was born – would have in effect signified the creation of the “‘Ummah of Islam” as the “New Israel”. Contrary to what historical Islam actually became, this Quraanic ‘Ummah would have been universal, hence the reference to Abraham who was neither Jew nor Christian.

    This interpretation would, in my opinion, fit better the polemical context of the Surat al-Baqqarah. It would also explain why the “going about” Safa-Marwah was not encouraged by the Quraan. It was still allowed (“..not a sin..”), yet no longer as crucial as it had been at the times of the “first Qiblah”.

    So, the “first Qiblah” encompassed geographically the network of sanctuaries and memorable locations from Petra to Negev to Hebron. These sometimes contradictory locations were connected with the Patriarchal narrative. The “second Qiblah” was at Pharan/Refidim and this signified the birth of a new congregation and the role of Quraan as the uncorrupted confirmation of the previous Revelations (87:18-19).

    Admittedly a lot of speculation here but it appears to offer some possible clarity to rather obscure topics.

    God bless,

  48. Blessings in Jesus.
    As you say a lot of speculation, which, as I see it, needs the corrective of historical fact, viz. as outlined in the Original Christian Quran. If you remove one iota from this minimum historical approach, you are left with a mass of traditions and legends 200 years post-dating the actual lifetime of Muhammad. According to that evidence there was no “original Qiblah” to Jerusalem (except for Jews) the Qiblah for Ishmaelites according to the Othmanic Quran was Sinai. I think we should admit the Sinaitic background and Pharan (Feiran) = city of Mecca (as opposed to the earlier Makah = shrine of Hagar’s well on Sinai at Wadi Feiran) and Medina = Areopolis = city of Midian as established historical fact. Then move on from there. These vague references in the Othmanic Quran should be treated with reserve, and not “re-interpreted” to fit later legends. However, as I say, mining these later legends to get a clearer view of the historical background of the Othmanic Quran’s reference is fine. Though Jastrow loosely equates Shur with Khalutsah and Khagra, the actual text of the Targums implies the Biblical “way to Shur” included the territory between Petra and Elousa (Khalutsah), and that is all. In other words, the road to Shur (adjoining Egypt) passed through Elousa and Petra before going on to Shur across the Sinai desert. This makes perfect sense, given the contact between the Negev and Egypt, as well as with the countries to the north of the Negev. It was a trade route presumably. Thus, Hagar in the region of Murra and Safa was just south of Elousa, as it was later known, precisely on the route to Shur which passed through Elousa, on to Petra (Reqem, Kadesh) then on to Shur. Here was the well which probably gave its name to Bered (“ice-cool”, a settlement not far from the “ice-cool” well Bered?). The idols which stood later on Safa and Murra (Merwa) were sometimes thought to represent two lovers, and the idol between them was Khalutsah or Khalitsah, the Stripped Venus. That could represent the parting of two lovers by another woman in a relationship with the man. Appropriate in relation to Abraham, Hagar and Sarah. Were these idols on Safa and Murra south of Elousa a paganization of traditions relating to the well there where Hagar was enjoined to return to her mistress Sarah? That last is speculation, but the location seems pretty certain, and the fact that the Targums fuse these place-names in the Negev (Khagra and Khalutsah) with the reference to Boachah Ashur (Baka, Mecca) in Genesis 25. Hence the confusion in the later Islamic legends of Safa and Murra with the Saudi Mecca.
    If I read the Targums correctly, the Biblical Bered was known as Khagra (“Rock”) in Aramaic and as Khaloutsah (Elousa) to the pagans. Probably the name Khagra (without the pagan reference) was favored by the Rabbis. Thus the well of Hagar was on the route from Reqem (Petra) to Khagra (Elousa), which was known as the “Road to Shur”. The reference to Shur in Genesis 25, in the phrase “from Havilah to Shur” was describing the extent of Ishmaelite occupation, and since the Targums missed the reference to Baka (Mecca) in the phrase Boachah Ashurah, taking it to mean “as you go to Assyria”, they understood the whole passage to refer not only to the land of Shur near Egypt but also to the “Road to Shur” near Elousa “on the way to Assyria”. True enough, the Ishmaelites occupied those more easterly regions in the era when the Targums were written. Thus the phrase was translated in such a way that instead of Shur (the land) being the terminus of the Ishmaelite occupation, the “Road to Shur” (at Elousa) was included too as the farthest eastern border of occupation, so we find “as far as Elousa” translating “as far as Shur”. Petra itself was also known as Khagra, the “Rock”, but the name was common in the Sinai region. That Khagra in the Targums is not Petra is demonstrated clearly by the phrase “from Reqem [which IS Petra] to Khagra” translating the Biblical “from Qadesh [or Kadesh, Petra] to Bered”. Here Khagra clearly is the latter, Bered, otherwise Khalutsah or Elousa.

  49. Hello friend,

    I found this article which is quite interesting:

    Targum Onqelos uses ’Hegra’ for ’Bared’ and ’Shur’. According to the argument presented in the article above this Hegra was located in Negev and would correspond to the Nabatean stronghold of Avdat. This location would have represented the borderlands leading from Palestine to Shur, the Sinaitic deserts East of Egypt.

    In Onqelos ”between Qadesh and Bared” became ”between Reqem and Hegra”. Qadesh/Reqem was probably Wadi Musa, the town sometimes known as the ”Guardian of Petra” where we have Ain Musa, the spring that was used by Nabateans to draw water to near-by Petra and which tradition has identified as the Biblical Meribat-Qadesh (the rock is still to be seen there).

    Hence, ”between Reqem and Hegra” would have meant ”between Petra (region) and Avdat”.

    Chalutza is certainly close by and another point on this trade route. So the interchange between ’Hegra’ and ’Chalutza’ for the translation of ’Bared’ in different Targums is quite understandable.

    So yes, I agree with you that it would be somewhere in Negev where Hagar’s Well would be located.

    However – and this was my main point in the previous post – there were probably many competing traditions and a lot of confusion regarding the ”original” location of various traditional Biblical and Quraanic sites and this was probably one factor that helped push the ”change” of the cultic focal point from Sinai-Negev to Saudi Makkah during the formative years of Islam.

    God bless,

  50. Blessings in Jesus. Having checked out the article mentioned I find about the only thing I agree with in it is the indication there was a Khagra (“Rock”) in the Negev (Khagra here not being Petra). This, it seems clear to me, was the Khagra in the Negev mentioned in the Targums, viz. Bered or, as it was later known, Elousa. Khagra would be the Arabian name, Bered the original Hebrew name and Khalutsah (Elousa) the pagan name for this place, which was the site of Hagar’s well Beer La-Hai-Roi. The writer of the article gets ridiculously confused over the location of Reqem and Qadesh (which were different names for Petra), and confuses Reqem-Qadesh with Khagra in the Negev. So, putting aside his theories, which are not based on the ancient sources, we can conclude there was a Khagra in the Negev (Bered, Elousa), and the Road to Shur passed between Khagra and Reqem (Petra) going on to Egypt. The writer refers accurately to early Greek accounts in the Hellenistic era which connect this site known as “the Rock” (viz. Khagra, Bered, Elousa) with the “Arabians who live next to Egypt”. The latter phrase surely refers to the “Arabian” inhabitants of Shur adjoining Egypt, and is confirmatory evidence that the Road to Shur passed through this Khagra in the Negev to the homeland Shur adjoining Egypt. He also suggests the name Arabia Petraea (Rocky Arabia) was so named after this Rock, Khagra, not after Petra, which I suspect is correct. Since every incident in Hagar’s life was of interest to the family of Muhammad, who was her offspring, it is easy to see how traditions relating to this important site of the well at Khagra and the nearby crags at Murra and Safa were picked up in the Othmanic Quran. The “not a sin” phrase in the Othmanic text, of course, relates to the fact it was not considered a “sin” for Muslims to do the pilgrimage to the site between Murra and Safa, even though it had idolatrous associations in the pre-Islamic past.

  51. Hello,

    yes there was certainly a tendency for early Muslims to stick to the practices of per-Islamic past and, sadat, finally the Pagan influences took over the tradition, so to speak.

    What is the earliest map or mention of the Negevite Murra and Safa (outside Quraan which, of course, offers no clues to their location)? Are those places now villages, hills, wadys or what exactly are they?


  52. Blessings in Jesus. Will check up, God willing, on earliest reference, probably 19th century as the Bedouin left few records during the Middle Ages except around Petra itself. However, the situation here matches the Quranic reference, and the Biblical location of Beer lahai Roi. We have the incense route from Petra to Elousa (Qadesh to Bered) passing on to Gaza on the one hand and Egypt (Shur) on the other, and half-way along that road from Petra to Elousa we find Wadi Murra (it is a craggy wadi, called Nahal Zin in modern Hebrew), which runs north-east from the Incense Road to Naqb es-Safa (Safa) at the pass of Aqrabbim nearer the Dead Sea. The wadi Murra terminates at the road passing from Petra to Elousa, and just where it meets the road are four magnificent wells and fountains , Ayn Maarif, Ayn Mor, Ayn Avdat etc, the latter probably being Beer lahai Roi itself, a huge waterfall falling into a large basin. Avdat was built later at this site by the Nabataeans, and there were few permanent occupations in the area before that, though there was one on a summit alongside the wadi from Middle Bronze Age I, which was just after Hagar’s own era, showing, most probably that Ishmaelites descended from Hagar knew of this site, and stopped there on their trade route to Egypt. We know Ishmaelite traders operated in this area from the Joseph story. The well (probably at Avdat) of Beer lahai Roi was already there when Hagar was called by the angel. It probably means the Well of flowing (living) water of Roi, re-interpreted as the Well of the Living One Who Sees Me.

    UPDATE 020318
    I am more convinced of this identification the more I look at it.
    Below is a map from 1907 of the local Arabic place-names around Avdat at the proposed site of Beer-lahai-roi (right-click and select “View Image” to get a larger picture of the map):


    You can see here Avdat (Abde) circled light blue with the pools just north (circled darker blue) this being the spot where Wadi Murra terminates at Avdat on the Incense Route (“between Qadesh [Petra] and Bered [Elousa]”). These pools are the ones I suggest are Beer-lahai-roi. Accordingly immediately adjoining Avdat (Abde) to the south are escarpments called in Arabic Jebel Kharoa (circled light red, spelled Haroa on the map, with aspirated “h” as the initial consonant). This would be the Arabic traditional pronunciation of Khai-roi. There is a Wadi Kharoa (spelled Haroa on the map) also running down from the escarpment (circled light yellow). I have suggested the well of Beer-lahai-roi was originally called Bered “cool” and that this gave its name to the area, from which by derivation the nearby settlement was called Bered, later Elousa. Accordingly on the map there is another wadi running down from Jebel Kharoa called Wadi Umm el-Bared, which translates as the Wadi Mother of Bared, meaning I conclude, the “Feeder wadi [lit. Mother] of the waters of Bered”. That means the “cool” (Bered) waters of the Wadi Murra into which this Wadi leads supplied the waters of the “Cool Pool” (Bered), renamed by Hagar Beer-lahai-roi. These significant names, Kharoa, Bered, Murra, Safa occur precisely in the “right” area just mid-way between Qadesh-Petra and Bered-Elousa. More than coincidence to my thinking. That the 19th-century Arabic place-names preserved on maps like this can go back to genuinely ancient toponyms is proven by the 19th-century Arabic name El-Khalasa for Elousa itself (which is the Targumic Khalutsah or Khalitsah), as that is the (pagan) name dating from at least Hellenistic times for the Biblical patriarchal settlement Bered, itself named after the pool Bered (Beer-lahai-roi) located somewhat to the south of the settlement.

  53. Hello,

    yes, sounds logical. I checked what Nahal Zin and Ain Avdat look like and they are certainly breathtaking. Interestingly Avdat was not just a Nabatean stronghold but until Muslim invasion home to monks and hermits who had set to live in the caves. A very special place indeed.

    I didn’t know that ’chalaza’ in Greek means ”hailstone”! As ’bared’ in Hebrew means the same, then Chalutza/Elousa would certainly be associated with Bared!

  54. Blessings in Jesus. Spotted other things about this region which are noted in the Update to your last comment. PS. Don’t think the Greek chalaza has anything to do with the place-name Elousa, as that clearly is Semitic, root kh-l-ts = “strip” and gives the name of the idol Khalitsah.

    Have also added a short update to earlier comment re. date-palms and Pseudo-Matthew reference to a palm at

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